The Cable Center’s Academic Seminar provides National Show attendees with a smart break from the self-serving chatter. By Seth Arenstein The Cable Center’s Academic Seminar may be cable’s least-understood entity. Like the U.S. vice presidency, most people aren’t sure what it does. To remedy this and encourage you to arrive in Atlanta one day early, we asked seminar co-chair, Hallmark Channel EVP Chris Moseley, The Cable Center’s programs and education SVP Susan Greene and its director, programs and education, Dorothy Kelly to explain the seminar and make their case for attending. In addition to the seminar’s intimacy, forward-looking panels, short presentations and long Q&As, they emphasized that cable executives display a candor at this event, being held April 8-9, that’s not seen at National. First, the basics: what’s the Academic Seminar, who attends? Greene: It’s a day and a half of panels and discussions before National that allow academics to interact with high-level cable executives. NCTA and The Cable Center subsidize them to come and they also get a free day at [National], so they get a very pragmatic view of cable and also have this higher-level day-and-a-half exchange. We have dinners and academic papers that allow industry to see what’s being written and taught in the colleges and grad schools about cable. As for attendees, it’s free to all NCTA show delegates and people from all parts of the industry attend, plus a whole range of faculty, that’s who it’s designed for. In addition to the program we give a $5K grant each year to a PhD student who’s written the best thesis on the cable industry, on any aspect of the industry. We also do a book award and a financial award to a commercially published book about the cable industry. But you want cable folk in the audience? Greene: Yes, it makes for a much livelier discussion. People will be sitting through 3 days of panels and discussions at National. Why should they sit through more at the Academic Seminar? Greene: It’s a different feel, it’s more intimate and it’s a different perspective. There’s much to be gained by industry people having a conversation with very, very bright people who follow cable closely and who often consult for clients in the industry. Moseley: There’s more of a dialogue because the size of the group is much smaller [than National]. That small size encourages a more genuine Q&A. It’s a real future-focused discussion. It’s not going to replace NCTA, but it adds a lot of value to the NCTA experience. Greene: [National] basically is a discussion between people in the industry, and the topics are very immediate business, programming, and partnership and technology issues. What you have [at the Seminar] are people outside the industry who take a somewhat more global, strategic and trend-oriented analysis. I find it personally refreshing, it gives me a way to get out of my own rut and think about things from a different perspective. There’s an intimacy and informality that enables a dialogue. How intimate is it? How many people typically attend? Moseley: Even in the smaller NCTA sessions you’re probably talking about 100 or so people in the audience. In the larger sessions you can have thousands. With the Seminar it’s between 75 and 200. You mentioned a different feel at The Seminar. How so? Greene: Maybe it’s the nature of the academic community, there seems to be less shyness in the Q&A part. What I find at the NCTA sessions is that people ask questions to be impressive, people ask questions who want to be hired by the panelists. [Laughter] Moseley: They’re also making points for their own companies. Greene: Right. Academic people don’t hold back, they ask very probing questions, there’s very little grandstanding. It’s also a bit off the record in that the industry people aren’t talking to people they do business with. That allows a more open approach, not just going with what you’ve heard before, the industry people really open up. That’s the real benefit. You can’t get that depth in any national industry convention. Moseley: Right, it’s more of a genuine dialogue, an `open kimono’ approach. It’s more of a `deep dive’ than you can get elsewhere. The Seminar must assist recruiting. Kelly: Yes. Cable is having a hard time finding talent, so this is a good way to let students know (through their professors) of the interesting work going on in cable. Many professors have asked me to get them DVDs of last year’s sessions and some National Show sessions to show in their classrooms. Greene: You wouldn’t remember this, Seth, it was before your time, but when cable started out it was small, but it was a very hot business. When people went to recruit everyone stood online to try to get a job in the cable industry. As cable got older and became perceived as more of a utility, it lost that feel. Part of what [The Academic Seminar does] is reignite that excitement in people who are already generally committed to media to look at how innovative cable can be. And they get that with 2 days devoted just to them, they don’t have to compete with [National]. It’s extremely important for the industry to be perceived as, and actually be, a committed player with this [intellectual] sector. Who are the academics? Kelly: Many are consultants to the industry. Some are consulting through media labs, some are consulting directly with companies, like Nickelodeon on Gooey, the interactive platform they’re building. In addition, these professors are interested in taking the hottest stuff back into the classroom. These are professors from communications, mass communications and journalism schools. The panel with Mark Coblitz, `Strength, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats: Dealing with Competitors, Technology and Markets,’ looks like a short presentation, with a long Q&A. Greene: Right. The presentations are usually informal and the Q&A is much longer than in an NCTA session. It’s really the inverse of an NCTA session. How do you decide on the topics for the Seminar? Kelly: Through meetings between the co-chairs and the committee of academic advisors. Why should people give up their Saturday to attend it? Moseley: The speakers will be people attractive to not only the academic world, but to the cable and telecommunications industry. We have Mark Coblitz, Comcast SVP of strategic planning, Joe Rooney, SVP of marketing at Cox, who’ll be on a panel with me about branding from an MSO perspective, talking about how to do this in an increasingly fragmented world. [NCTA SVP, law & regulatory policy] Dan Brenner and [NCTA director, legislative policy] Dan Craig will go over some of the key NCTA issues. The industry keynote will be delivered by [president/COO of Adelphia] Ron Cooper, who always has terrific things to contribute. Some of the sessions alone are worth the trip, for example, ways to take partnerships to the next level, between technology and academic institutions, in the digital and new media arena, that’s a panel that looks like it would be useful to everyone. How to deal with strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and threats, in the Internet space, the broadband space, the telecommunications space. That’s one panel that will be useful to everyone; how to brand is always useful. I just feel the topics alone are transferable really to not only academia, but to the cable and telecommunications industry. Greene: I support what Chris said, but I’ll take it from a somewhat different perspective. I think our industry doesn’t understand the impact and power of faculty at the university level in 2 ways: 1. students are our future consumers and to the degree they are not learning anything about cable or what learn is not up-to-date we all suffer 2. they are going to be our future employees, so it’s useful to encourage a robust and frank discussion over a couple of days. I see it as an ongoing conversation between practicing executives in the industry and leaders in the intellectual community who are teaching our next generation of employees. For that reason alone, this is critical. If you look at most communications J schools’ curricula there’s a lot on broadcasting, film and public relations. There’s almost nothing on cable. Here’s an opportunity, in a very concentrated way, to give leading-edge faculty access to our best and our brightest. Your panel `Technology/Academic Partnerships: Creating The Next Generation of Digital Media’ seems to do that. Greene: Right. This is the sort of panel that tells you what’s going to be coming out a few years down the line. This is the stuff not ready for prime time, but it shows you where the innovation is, where the intellectual debate is, where the intellectual capital’s being invested. That always ends up permeating the business in some cycle. Where else are you going to senior members from 3 major national media labs who can talk about what and why they’re doing things and what the consequences will be for our business? Chris, what does a programmer take away from The Seminar? Moseley: It forces you to look a bit more long term, possibly more strategically. And it comes early enough in the year and you can go back and think about what sort of initiatives and strategies should be proposed and then funded. Academic Seminar Schedule of Events
Georgia World Congress Center Saturday, April 8
12:30 – 1:00 p.m.
1:10 – 2:15 p.m.
Legislative & Regulatory Update on Cable Telecommunications 2:30 – 3:45 p.m.
Technology/Academic Partnerships: Creating the Next Generation of Digital Media 4:00 – 5:00 p.m.
Cable Telecommunication Entrepreneurship: The Programmers 5:00 – 6:15 p.m.
Interactive Research Paper Presentations 6:30 – 8:00 p.m.
The Cable Center’s Academic Awards Dinner Sunday, April 9
8:30 – 9:00 a.m.
Continental Breakfast 9:00 – 10:00 a.m.
Cable Telecommunication Brand Building 10:15 – 11:15 a.m.
Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats: Dealing with New Competitors, Technology and Markets 11:30 – 12:15 p.m.
Industry Keynote 12:15 – 12:30 p.m.Closing Remarks